Biology Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for biology researchers, academics, and students. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I have recently been involved in collaborations that require me to model the population genetics of eukaryotic populations. I fear I may either be "re-inventing the wheel" or making conceptual mistakes (e.g. simplifying assumptions) in many of the techniques and decisions so far.

I would very much appreciate recommendations of books about population/evolutionary genetics or micro evolution to deal with these fears. Preferable criteria are:

  1. Intuitively introduces key concepts.

  2. Emphasis on modelling with examples of problems and their solutions.

  3. Relatively short (I'm planning to read from cover to cover).

share|improve this question
up vote 18 down vote accepted

General Entry Books to Population Genetics

There are several books that offer an introduction to population genetics. I read Principles of Population Genetics (Hartl & Clarke). I appreciated it but if I were you I think I would rather try Elements of population genetics (Charlesworth) or Population Genetics (Hamilton). There is also Genetics of Populations (Hedrick). I would tend to think that this last book presents lots of empirical population genetics data and doesn't take as much focus as the others in theoretical concepts (but I might be wrong). Gillespie's book Population Genetics: A Concise Guide is a classic. It is short, very easy to follow and pleasant to read. Gillespie's book might eventually be a little bit outdated but I would still highly recommend it.

Emphasis on Analytical Modelling

A Biologist's guide to mathematical modelling in evolution and ecology (Otto and Day) is a very good and very accessible book. It makes a good review about all subjects that are usually taught to first year students in Biology such as linear algebra for example. It is highly accessible and in the meantime it goes pretty far as it ends up talking about the application of diffusion equation in population genetics (Kimura's work among others). This book presents some important models in population genetics but as it aims to provide the tools for mathematical modelling in ecology and evolution it may under-considerate some fields of ecology and evolutionary biology. For example, the book does not talk about population structure nor about evolutionary game theory and there is little about Coalescent theory.

Other books treating specific subjects within population genetics

Coalescent Theory: an Introduction (John Wakeley) is a good book. I haven't read it completely for both time issues and because the math are a bit complicated for me. Coalescent theory offers a very important set of mathematical tools in evolutionary biology.

There's also Mathematical population genetics (Ewens). I am currently reading it. It is definitely not an introductory book and it really doesn't cover much of the most common fields in population genetics.

If you are particularly interested in age-structured population, Evolution in age-structured populations (Charlesworth) is a very good book.

Modeling evolution (Roff) offers some discussion on how to mathematically define fitness from phenotypic traits. While it is interesting I would not counsel you to buy it. Moreover, all the mathematics are quite basic and it aims to explain how to perform mathematical modelling with R which is to my opinion not essential to learn as other languages make a better job at dealing with math (Mathematica for example).

Evolutionary Conservation Biology (Ferrière, Couvet and Dieckmann) is a very good book of conservation and conservation genetics. It develop some mathematical models that are of special interest to conservation of populations and communities.

Ecology, Genetics and Evolution in Metapopulations (Hanski and Gaggiotti) is a book that may interest you as well. However it focuses much more on ecology than the other ones I cited above. Note: I haven't read it entirely.


In short, I'd recommend A Biologist's guide to mathematical modelling in evolution and ecology (Otto and Day) if you want to ensure your knowledge in mathematics. I also recommend one of the books discussed in the first section, especially Population Genetics: A Concise Guide (Gillespie)

share|improve this answer
my savior, cheers – hello_there_andy Apr 10 '14 at 23:23
+1 for the Otto and Day recommendation – Corvus Mar 13 '15 at 3:34

@Remi.b's list is excellent, but it should also include Gillespie's Population Genetics: A Concise Guide.

share|improve this answer
+1 for Gillespie's excellent book. – Corvus Mar 13 '15 at 3:34
You've written this anser two years ago. Since that I kept the note that I had to read this book. I finally did it and could make an appropriate comment in my answer. It is a very good book I agree. Thanks! – Remi.b Apr 19 at 20:37

Not relatively short, but I'm going to repeat a recommendation I just made in another thread. Population Genetics and Microevolutionary Theory by Alan Templeton covers many of the topics listed above, and is heavy on the self-learning of various population structure statistics, with examples. It is an introductory textbook with for people with some statistical background (though it includes a statistical appendix as well). There is quite a bit of discussion of Bayesian inference and other modeling methods as well.

share|improve this answer

I personally like the Primer on Population Biology by Wilson and Bossert. For a book that is almost 45 years old, it holds up pretty well. One of the best things about this book is that they provide examples and then walk through the solutions step by step. Once in a while it gets a bit too mathematical for this Biologist, but overall, I find it readable and informative.

I think this book fits all of your criteria very closely.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.